The turkey has been stuffed and the stuffing has been eaten. Football played and watched; dogs walked and dog shows watched. Pie tins scraped clean of every last bit of delicious cooked fruits.
You survived Black Friday with nary a bruise from the mad rush through the toy department. You supported your neighbors and neighborhood market on Small Business Saturday.
The most important shopping day of the year: Cyber Monday. Also known as the day you spend “catching up on emails” after a long four-day weekend, when “catching up on emails” is code for “making sure Overstock goes out of stock” and “getting every last cent’s worth of value from the free shipping my Amazon Prime membership entitles me to.”
But before you whip out your credit card and give that little piece of plastic such a workout that by Tuesday it will be as swole as your bank account is empty, take a few minutes to read through these five tips that will help keep you safe while you shop. After all, this Cyber Monday, you should be the one committing the theft… by stealing the last pair of those gorgeous boots right out from under the nose of some other shopper who didn’t click “Add to Cart” quite fast enough! Stay frosty folks—when you play the game of Cyber Monday, either you win… or you go home empty handed. (Well, technically even the winners go home empty handed unless they live in an area with Same-Day Shipping, but you get the drift.)
Tip #1: Checkout as a Guest Whenever Possible
As tempting as it is to register for the sites you shop most often and store your information in order to facilitate a quicker checkout experience, checking out as a guest is by far the safer way to shop. By shopping as a guest you’re making sure that your valuable information (credit card numbers, address, phone, name, etc.) are not being stored by that site beyond the end of the transaction. This lowers the likelihood of your information being compromised should that website’s servers ever be hacked. In addition, that is also one fewer place where you will be using that same password you’ve had since 2009 yet again. (See below for more on this!) Besides, you know you’ve got that credit card number memorized by now, and the few extra seconds (and keystrokes) it takes for you to enter that information on checkout won’t be enough to put any serious dampers on your day.
Tip #2: Use a Unique Password for Each Site
Seriously. For real. No joke. Please, for the love of every one of Santa’s tiny elves in their tiny caps and curly-toed shoes, stop using the same password over and over again. Yes, it’s a huge hassle to have to remember all those different passwords (and yes, they need to be legitimately different from one another, not simply the same word with a new digit tacked onto the end), but just think of the hassle you’ll go through if you ever have to recover your stolen identity! Besides, there are a lot of very good Password Management programs out there that will solve this very dilemma for you. Here is a list of them conveniently ranked and rated by PC magazine. Go ahead and make one of those the gift you give yourself this year!
Oh, and one last thing: for the love of every single one of Santa’s antler-bedecked black and/or red-nosed reindeer, please stop writing down your passwords on sticky notes. No, you’re not fooling anybody by “hiding” those sticky notes underneath your keyboard.
Tip #3: Enable Two-Factor Authentication if Possible
What’s stronger than one password—even if it’s the best password anyone has ever thought of in the history of passwords? Two steps that must be taken to verify your identity. Two-factor authentication is when your computer or the program or website you are using asks you to respond in a secondary manner after your initial password entry to ensure that you are actually you.* There are many different combinations of factors in 2FA (as the cool techs call it), including responding to a text sent on your phone, entering in a one-time code sent to you, answering a verification question, and verifying a photo or phrase combination that you chose, to name a few. Regardless of how your 2FA service works, it should be obvious that simply having that second factor in place decreases the odds of a cybercriminal being able to gain entry into your accounts.
*Yes, we know you quite often wonder the same thing these days when you look in the mirror and reflect on all the choices you’ve made in life and lie in bed in the still of the night wondering about all the paths not taken in diverging woods, but we’re just an I.T. company. We’re good at a lot of things, but talking you through your existential crisis would not be one of those things.
Tip #4: Avoid Using Public Wi-Fi When Making Purchases
Look, we all love to sip a peppermint eggnog mocha Frappuccino while we scour the internet for bargains. At this point, that’s nearly as American as eating a hot dog on Memorial Day. But it should seem obvious that free Wi-Fi is probably not the most secure Wi-Fi. Yet there are still way too many people who sit with their purse in their lap to make sure it’s safe while they nonchalantly browse and buy online over that public connection without even a thought as to who else may be on the very same network.
The bottom line is this: if you are going to indulge in a little holiday shopping while taking a break in your favorite café, look and compare and Add to Cart as much as you want. But don’t sign in to the site (and make sure that you take the precaution of signing out of any sites that you tend to remain signed-in on when using your personal device—sites like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and any others that you visit frequently). And don’t complete your purchase. Leave your items in your cart until you get back home to a private, secure, password-protected network, at which point you can sign in and complete your transaction. Most retailers will allow you to “save” items in your cart for a short period of time before they are added back to the general inventory, so you shouldn’t have to worry about losing that combination crock-pot and toaster that you just know your mother will love!
Tip #5: Make Sure the Site Has an HTTPS Connection
Quick! Look up at the address bar of your browser! See those infamous letters that come before the vaunted :// and legendary www? They stand for “Hyper Text Transfer Protocol,” and when they include an S in their company, that invaluable extra letter stands for “Secure.” In fact, many address bars will also include an image of a closed lock next to the address, simple visual proof that you are using a secure website. In short, that extra S shows that the website you are visiting secures all data sent to and from it via encryption. In slightly longer short, that S is super important; it helps keep your information safe from any cyber “eavesdroppers” who could ostensibly take a peek at your information as it passes from your computer to the website’s servers and back. (Side note: if you are ever on a page that legitimately appears to be the site of a well-known company and you do not see HTTPS, you may very well be on a spoofed site set up as part of a phishing scam. That S matters. A lot.) So don’t let the heady rush of bargain-based adrenaline and shopper’s endorphins cause you to forget to glance up at the address bar and make sure you are only sharing your info with secure websites. (Second [and final] side note: on mobile devices, the address bar may not show the entire address. Most mobile browsers will still show that closed lock, but to double check that you are using a secure site, simply tap on the address in the bar and the full address will appear.)
Okay, now that you’ve learned how to keep yourself safe while shopping online this Cyber Monday (and ever after as well), I wish you the very best of luck in finding all the most perfect gifts for all the perfect people in your life. Happy holidays. May your December be full of joy, laughter, and love.